Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 23 2020 - Acts 6:1-15 – Division of labour

One of the most notable divisions between Jews in Jerusalem was between those who continued to speak Hebrew (or more correctly Aramaic), and those who had adopted the Greek language and probably a measure of Greek customs. They would each have had their own synagogues with worship conducted in their different languages. The two communities probably viewed one another with a measure of suspicion.

The apostles would have been Aramaic speakers, but the growing church soon made inroads among the Greek speaking Jews. It would appear that the suspicion between these two groups did not immediately disappear once people became Christians. As we have seen, the early Christians were in the habit of sharing resources one with another. The apostles were now supervising a growing and widespread distribution of food to those in need – a kind of first-century food bank. Before long, some of the widows among the Greek speaking groups felt that they were not getting treated as generously as widows who spoke Aramaic – like the apostles.

I am reminded of how Moses struggled to try and settle the many disputes among the Israelites after they had been rescued from Egypt. It was just too much for him to do alone. Jethro, his father-in-law, told Moses to appoint others to help him out so that he could do what God had called him to do (Exodus 18).

Here, in Acts, it is the Spirit of Jesus who teaches the apostles the same lesson. The apostles encouraged the aggrieved community to select men of integrity and spiritual maturity to help in the task of distribution – from the names that emerge it does seem that the helpers were to be from the Greek speaking community. These men were then appointed to their new task as the apostles laid their hands on them, signifying full trust and delegated authority for their ministry.

So the crisis was averted. The apostles could devote themselves to the work that Jesus had called them to do. Other tasks were also done well by others who were equally directed and empowered by the same Holy Spirit. As a result the church continued to grow and to prosper.

When power is retained in the hands of the few, divisions will multiply and the work will soon stagnate. When the many are freed to do the work to which God calls and equips each of them by his Spirit, divisions will be healed, much will be accomplished and the kingdom will increase. This is a vital lesson for us to learn in our day, just as it was in the days of the apostles.

But as the church grew and prospered among Greek speaking Jewish Christians, the Greek speaking Jewish community began to feel threatened. Steven, one of the seven chosen to help with poor relief, but evidently also a gifted preacher, was seized and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin to face trumped-up charges.

If we hope to make an impact on the community in which God has placed us we must also expect to stir up opposition. If we are intent upon avoiding conflict we will end up watering down the good news of Christ until it is as ineffective as it is inoffensive.

Father God, help us to encourage one another in the work that you have given each of us to do. Give us discernment to see where Satan is stirring up trouble and division among your people and the wisdom to deal with it effectively so that all may work together in building your church and making Christ known. May we always bear clear testimony to the good news of Jesus both in the words we say and in the character of our shared life.

Peter Misselbrook